During his brief appearance, Obama did not mention al-Qaida’s strategic defeat in Iraq, coming as a result of Arabs’ collective recoil from Islamists’ suicide bombings aimed at other Arabs in Iraq’s cities and towns.
Despite growing opposition from ordinary Arabs and Muslims, al-Qaida used those shocking tactics because it believed that Bush’s plan to establish democracy in Iraq would be an ideological defeat of its core belief that the Arab world should be ruled by a Baghdad-based Muslim theocratic dictator — dubbed the caliph.
“The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation,” said a 2004 message from Osama bin Laden. That war, he said, urging Islamist gunmen to fight in Iraq, “is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.”
The “land of the two rivers” is Iraq, whose geography is framed by the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Now those gunmen and bin Laden are dead. And the capital of the would-be caliphate is under the secure control of an elected government and army led by Shia Muslims, who al-Qaida considers heretics.
During the Democratic presidential primary, Obama showed his opposition to the Iraq campaign by promising to withdraw U.S. troops, even if the departure resulted in a bloody civil war.
“Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done,” Obama told the Associated Press.
“It was the dominant issue [in the 2008 race and] … then-Senator Obama took a very clear position,” a White House spokesman said at Friday’s press conference.
Obama did include some brief references to the trials of U.S. troops.
“The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success,” he said, before he depicted the soldiers as wounded and in need of help from domestic government programs. “We’ll honor our many wounded warriors and the nearly 4,500 American patriots — and their Iraqi and coalition partners — who gave their lives to this effort … we’ll never stop working to give them and their families the care, the benefits and the opportunities that they have earned.”
Obama also played up U.S. diplomats’ role moving forward. “With our diplomats and civilian advisers in the lead,” the president said, “we’ll help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative and accountable.”
The president’s remarks ended with a call for Americans to turn inwards. “After a decade of war,” he said, “the nation that we need to build — and the nation that we will build — is our own.”